July 2013

Why virtue matters in politics

July 31 2013 by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press

ALEXANDRIA, La. – The citizens of a democratic republic get the leaders they deserve because, after all, they choose them. Elected officials, then, are merely a reflection of the majority of those who voted to place them into office.

In the wake of sex scandals involving President Bill Clinton in the mid-1990s, the mantra among many in society became, “Character does not matter when it comes to political leaders.”

Those who espoused this view insisted that private behavior has no bearing on public leadership.

Many in the American electorate bought the premise that leaders can privately be selfish, greedy, dishonest and even perverted, all the while making altruistic decisions that are in the best interests of those who elected them to office.

Believing someone can be vile in private while virtuous in public has resulted in a U.S. Congress with an approval rating, according to a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, that currently stands at 12 percent. Additionally, a 2012 Gallup poll found that politicians were among the least trusted professionals in America.

“Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom,” observed Benjamin Franklin. What one of America’s most well-known founders understood is that a truly virtuous people would elect as leaders those individuals who possessed integrity and virtue.

While definitions and understandings of virtue and integrity may abound, I recently heard a simple explanation offered by Bob McEwen. The former U.S. Congressman from Ohio spoke at an event I attended and he shared that integrity and virtue consist of two concepts, morality and character.

“Morality is not engaging in behavior that is wrong,” according to McEwen. Though many in contemporary America reject the authority of the Bible, it does contain prohibitions that our society embraces. Stealing, murder, lying and infidelity are still viewed as behaviors that are wrong.

Moral people, simply put, sincerely seek to not do that which is wrong. Morality is good and noble. However, according to McEwen, integrity and virtue require more than morality. In order to be considered a person of integrity, a person of virtue, one must also pursue character.

“Character is doing that which is right,” McEwen said. It is not just enough to not do wrong. A person must do what is right.

McEwen said that if your child came home and told you the kids at school were calling a little girl names and added that he or she did not participate in the name calling, you would be happy. Your child did not do something wrong. He or she acted morally.

But a question remains, McEwen said: Did your child do what is right? Did he or she exhibit character by standing up for the little girl?

The two wings of morality and character are necessary for integrity and virtue to take flight. Both concepts are required. “You can’t do what is right if you are at the same time doing what is wrong,” McEwen said.

If Americans do not start electing men and women of integrity, people of virtue, who care more about the condition of the country than about their own fortunes, I fear the future of the United States is bleak.

In order for Americans to start electing people of virtue, it will require the realization that the electorate is the real problem, not those who have been elected. “We have met the enemy and he is us,” is famous line from the comic strip character Pogo created by Walt Kelly.

Those who occupy elected positions are nothing more than a reflection of the majority of people who voted for them. If we don’t like what we see, we must start with our own integrity and then select and elect those who represent our morals and our character.

Recent developments in New York City might be a glimmer of hope that some citizens are coming around.

Anthony Weiner, a candidate in the New York City mayoral race, has plunged in the polls as a result of revelations he has engaged in at least three online affairs since resigning from Congress for the same sin. His actions have included explicit conversations and lewd photos shared with women, despite the fact that he is married and has a child.

Weiner’s behavior is so perverse that it has gotten the attention of some New York voters. As a result, quite a few are saying enough is enough. Some are saying they are not going to vote for a man void of morals and bereft of character.

I have a voting litmus test for those who want to excuse the behavior of politicians like Weiner and still maintain that elected leaders don’t need morality and character.

First, would you be comfortable leaving your daughter or your wife alone with the candidate for an extended period of time? Second, would you buy a used car from them? If you can’t answer either question with an unqualified yes, perhaps you should consider another candidate.

“The States [the government] are as the men are; they grow out of human character,” observed Plato. It is past time for integrity and virtue to matter again.

If our elected officials are to possess morality and character, the attributes must first be embraced by the electorate.

“Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people,” said John Adams, America’s second president. “It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press, director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s office of public affairs, and editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.)
7/31/2013 12:29:24 PM by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Your ‘moronic 2 minutes’

July 31 2013 by Joe McKeever, Baptist Press

NEW ORLEANS – Pastor, have you ever had a meltdown in the pulpit?

In the news recently, two Atlanta radio jocks were fired for the on-air mocking they did of a New Orleans icon, former Saints football player Steve Gleason who has ALS (Lou Gehrig’s) and lives in a wheelchair and speaks through a computer.

They made fun of him, parodied his situation, and someone role-played Steve speaking of his coming death and such.

It was the ultimate in offensive.

In the article that ran here in New Orleans, one of the terminated idiots (I’m so objective in this story, as you can see) said, “What were we thinking?” The jocks apologized, and in a subsequent story, Gleason said he accepted their apology.

One of the men called it “a moronic two minutes.”

No argument.

I have had a few moronic two minutes in my long lifetime, and expect some of our readers have also.

I know a pastor who was so exasperated with his small congregation that in a Sunday morning sermon, he berated them for their laziness and unresponsiveness and, working himself up into a lather, stalked out of the service, leaving his people sitting there.

The deacons – I think the church had three – went to him that afternoon to try to bring him to his senses.

Later that day, in the evening service, the pastor apologized to the church and kept on talking. Big mistake. The more he tried to explain why he did what he had done, he slipped into that same rant and once again, walked out of church, leaving the members stunned.

You will not be surprised to learn he was fired that week.

An uncontrolled display of the flesh by an undisciplined minister has aborted many a ministry.

Impulsive humor is often repulsive humor.

Impulsive anger has caused a zillion problems. (Just the other day, I heard of a man who owned racehorses growing exasperated because a prize stallion kept fading in the stretch and failing to win. In a burst of anger, the owner took a shotgun and killed the horse on the spot.)

Impulsive buying by a husband or wife has ruined many a marriage.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is ... self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

When Margaret and I were young marrieds, we moved 350 miles with our 1-year-old son to enroll in seminary. This was the first time Margaret had ever lived away from her hometown, and I was trying to learn subjects like Hebrew and Greek while holding down a part-time job. The stress on our marriage was considerable.

On one occasion during one of our frequent arguments, I was so angry, I put my fist through the wall. Granted, it was only sheetrock and that’s not hard to do, but the sight of that – and the humiliation of having to go to the campus housing office and report it so it could be repaired – got my attention.

More and more, as I prayed about my temper, Galatians 5:22-23 kept returning to my mind. The solution to my anger, I realized, was not working on anger issues. It was to be filled with the Spirit and let Him bear His fruit through me.

As I grew in Christ, the temper – and everything else – came more and more under His control.

What to do after your moronic two minutes

I apologized to Margaret for the display of the flesh. She forgave me, then said, “I was goading you into it.” Her taking part of the responsibility helped me deal with it.

When any of us have such a meltdown, there is no substitute to the basic Christian steps all of God’s people are asked to do when they sin:
  1. Repent.
  2. Confess.
  3. Apologize to our victims and the spectators.
  4. Restore or repay, to the extent you can.
  5. Learn from it.
  6. Now, get up and try again. Do not park by your failures, do not grovel in your failings and do not camp out on your weaknesses. You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you, including overcoming this failing.
  7. Put it behind you now and be proactive for the future. Anticipate moments and situations that could be stressful, and prepare. Pray!
You are not perfect and never will be in this life. But the Lord deserves servants who strive to please Him in all we do.

“Set a guard upon my mouth, O Lord. Keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3).

Uncontrolled and undisciplined anything is always unworthy of Christ-followers.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joe McKeever, on the Web at www.joemckeever.com, is a Baptist Press cartoonist and columnist, a former longtime pastor and former director of missions for the New Orleans Baptist Association.)
7/31/2013 12:19:49 PM by Joe McKeever, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Pray for our military chaplains

July 30 2013 by Nathan Finn, Guest Column

Formal military chaplaincy in America dates to the time of George Washington. Throughout American history, thousands of clergy, many of them Southern Baptists and other evangelicals, have provided pastoral care to the men and women serving in our armed services. At Southeastern and our sister seminaries, many of our students are preparing for careers as military chaplains.
Military chaplains engage in some of the most strategic ministry in our culture. Doug Carver, a Southern Baptist, recently retired as the U.S. Army chief of chaplains and now directs chaplaincy services for North American Mission Board (NAMB). As Carver observes in a recent Baptist Press article, “Chaplains have braved dangerous assignments with grace and strength. They have cared for the wounded and dying, and honored our fallen … . And all of them are representatives of our churches. Chaplains go to places most church members cannot go. They go where the gospel is difficult to deliver in places that are underserved or not served at all.”

Today’s chaplains face unprecedented challenges in an atmosphere that is increasingly hostile to Christianity. According to a recent article published by World News Service, “The marginalization of Christianity in a military becoming more and more hostile to religion has left the chaplains feeling muzzled – and they now face same-sex couples coming to them for marriage counseling. The chaplains still get to wear crosses on their collars so they worry even more about those Christians in regular uniforms losing the First Amendment freedom of religious expression that they volunteered to defend.”

The religious liberty threats facing chaplains is part of a larger trend in the Armed Forces. Recent controversies, both real and perceived, prompted Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) president Russell Moore and NAMB president Kevin Ezell to author a joint statement about religious liberty and the military. ERLC is our denominational ministry that publicly advocates religious liberty, while NAMB endorses Southern Baptist military chaplains. Moore and Ezell argued, “While no reports indicate any known court martial or disciplinary proceedings related to evangelism, we also know that the time for clarification and protection of religious liberty is before such rights are taken away, not simply after they have been. Moreover, we have seen too many other incremental steps to marginalize and stigmatize the free exercise of religion, especially among evangelical Christians, in the military and elsewhere. Notice, for instance, the ongoing struggles for evangelical Christian chaplains to pray in public settings as evangelical Christians, in the name of Jesus, which is the only way evangelical Christians believe we can come before God the Father.”

“We ask then, and expect, from our military leaders, and from their civilian command, clarification of a commitment to safeguarding religious liberty, including the right for all servicemen and women to share their faith, short of coercion or harassment. This would entail a less subjective and more precise definition of such coercion and harassment, beyond the ambiguous language of ‘proselytizing.’”
“Our military men and women have submitted themselves to the authority of the United States armed services. ... Chaplains do not serve a merely civic function. They are there in order to facilitate the First Amendment-guaranteed free exercise of religion for our servicemen and women.”
These are indeed challenging days for all Christians serving in our military, especially our chaplains.
I praise God for our military chaplains. They labor for the sake of the gospel in some of the hardest contexts in the world. They provide crucial ministry to the men and women who serve our nation and protect our freedoms – including our religious freedom. Join me in praying that our chaplains’ religious freedom, and the religious freedom of all our military personnel, will be protected in the coming days.
One closing suggestion: In partnership with our International Mission Board, many local churches have adopted unreached people groups in recent years. This has been a great way to connect our churches with our Southern Baptist foreign missionaries. Perhaps our churches could also partner with NAMB in adopting a military chaplain. Imagine if every chaplain had one or more churches praying for him by name, offering him personal spiritual encouragement, and partnering with him as he proclaims Christ to our Armed Services personnel.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Nathan A. Finn is associate professor of historical theology and Baptist studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest. He serves on the Biblical Recorder’s Board of Directors. This column originally appeared on his blog, Between the Times.)
7/30/2013 4:03:35 PM by Nathan Finn, Guest Column | with 0 comments

What the Supremes can never change

July 30 2013 by John Yeats, Baptist Press

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court may change American culture through their opinions that overrule the legality of an opinion expressed by the majority of a state’s population.

Or their opinions may be the culmination of a movement to redefine marriage and sexual behavior.

But there are some things that do not change and will never change no matter what their rulings may imply to the general population:

God remains who He is. His opinion about His creation never changes. “The earth is the Lord’s and all it contains, the world and those who dwell in it” (Psalm 24:1). “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, and yes and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

God made people male and female for a purpose that is greater than sexual expressions, and rebellion against His purposes is sin. God created sexuality as part of a person’s life, and human sexuality is fulfilled in the context of a loving heterosexual relationship that resonates with God’s purposes (Ephesians 5:31-33). People who live for the biological and emotional experiences of life are held captive to this dying world.

Behavior contrary to God’s Word and natural law carries with it huge consequences, both personally and culturally. Some violations of scripture have ramifications for a lifetime and others impact generations. Sinful behavior is never static; it permeates families, generations of families and an entire culture with its consequences (Romans 1:18-32).

God’s redemption through Jesus Christ alone reaches down with consummate compassion to the worst of sinners. Most people cannot grasp the depth of God’s love for them. The grace of God is sufficient to redeem every sin except the sin of unbelief. The Lord Jesus shed His own blood on the cross to pay the penalty due for our sin – not just our behaviors but also the very nature of sin (2 Corinthians 5:11-21 and 2 Peter 1:3-9).

Genuine followers of the Lord Jesus respect the human dignity of all persons – alive and yet-to-be-born. Every person has the signature of God on his or her life. He knows every person prior to his or her arrival, and He knows a person’s eternal destiny (Psalm 139:13-18). The pattern of Jesus was to treat people with respect and to engage them in conversation at the point of their greatest need. He demonstrated how to hate sinful behavior and love the sinner.

Biblical marriage will remain between a man and a woman. This is the clear teaching of scripture. No court, legislative body, administration, public opinion poll or social engineer can change that reality.

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, stated, “Marriage is a pre-political institution defined by our Creator for His glory and for human flourishing.” No culture has the right to redefine biblical principles without exacting a toll that far exceeds anything they think they gain.

Men and women who pledge their lives to the religion of secularism eventually base their opinions on contradictions. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) opinion in June, “By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is a violation of the Fifth Amendment.”

In essence, he is saying that DOMA is invalid because its intent was to impede the “rights” of someone or to treat them as second-class citizens. In the context of the history of mankind, that is simply not true.

Mike Whitehead, the Missouri Baptist Convention’s legal counsel, said, “DOMA did not impose ‘disability’ on a ‘class of persons’ by refusing to accord them dignity. DOMA simply defined marriage the way the states – and the culture – have always defined it. ... It is no slur on one’s dignity to say that marriage means one man and one woman.”

Gary Bauer, president of American Values, said, “The irony of these two decisions is inescapable. In the DOMA case, the court’s majority clearly sided with the right of states to define marriage when they are choosing to let men ‘marry’ other men. Yet in the Proposition 8 decision, the court decided not to decide when the people of the state have voted to uphold the normal meaning of marriage.” The bench’s contradictions are breathtaking.

The body of Christ will continue to unashamedly teach and preach the Word of God and love people in the midst of their brokenness in spite of the court’s rulings. We are called to be convictional people. We cannot deny the wellspring of compassion that flows from our lives (1 John 4:11-13). So the church will continue to lead the world in compassion ministries. And even when our convictions are deemed unlawful, we will pay whatever price to hold true to the teachings of the Word of God.

There are many other unchangeable things surrounding this abhorrent exercise in jurisprudence. Remember, God will not be mocked. Like nations before us, we are on a road to internal collapse. It may not happen in this generation, but the seeds of destruction are definitely in the ground.

The majority of the justices revealed their religious preferences with these rulings. Secularism and its twin evangelists, sensuality and temporal values, soon will take additional steps to renounce the Lord God. There is more to come.

Consequently, as the religion in power in this nation continues to isolate gospel adherents, we, the body of Christ, must not lose hope. We must be up to date in our convictions, quick to pray, attentive to love others and ready with our testimonies.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – John Yeats is executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention. This column first appeared at The Pathway, newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention.)
7/30/2013 4:00:33 PM by John Yeats, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

What about the rest of North Carolina?

July 29 2013 by Brian Davis, Russ Conley & Lester Evans, BSC

The new convention strategy titled, “Impacting Lostness Through Disciple-making” calls attention to the urgent need to evangelize and disciple the 5.8 million lost people living in our state. And it gives attention to assisting churches in developing a disciple-making culture within a congregation.
Through church strengthening and church planting efforts, the strategy seeks to help churches develop an Acts 1:8 missions strategy for engaging the lost locally, across our state, and around the world. The strategy also challenges all churches of the convention to engage lost people in our state in every ethnic and cultural context. 
While these aspects of the strategy have been warmly embraced by church and associational leaders, there is a portion of the strategy that needs additional explanation.
The portion of the strategy in question relates to the areas of the state outside the eight population centers of concentrated lostness across North Carolina.
In an earlier article titled, “Why Eight Population Centers?” Michael Sowers explained the necessity for focusing on these areas. But some have raised a very important question: What about the rest of North Carolina?
This is a valid question.
Does the new strategy mean that current efforts to strengthen existing churches and plant new churches outside of these eight population centers will cease?
Certainly not. 
Convention staff will continue to serve congregations across the state to help them become healthy disciple-making churches.
Convention staff will continue to assist associations in their efforts to strengthen churches. Convention staff will also continue to work with congregations, associations and approved networks to plant congregations across the entire state. 
The needs for strengthening congregations and planting congregations are just as important outside of the population centers as within the population centers. We recognize that concentrations of lost people within the population centers are larger, but the value of a lost soul in the rural areas of the state is the same value as those lost souls in the urban areas of our state.
To be true to the heart of this strategy, convention staff must continue to engage congregations across the entirety of the state. We must give our best efforts to every congregation we serve.
But it is not enough simply to maintain current efforts of service to churches; for the strategy calls upon convention staff to help churches across the entire state develop what we refer to as a disciple-making culture.
The strategy calls upon all churches to develop a culture within their congregation that not only professes a belief in disciple-making, but effectively makes disciples, who in turn make more disciples.
It is in this way that churches outside of the population centers of the state may then become the missionary-sending entities that can engage pockets of lostness in both rural and urban areas of the state.
The strategy provides a framework for the population centers that requires a convention strategist to work with local church and association leadership to form a local strategy team that then develops strategies for impacting lostness in the population center. This same framework may also effectively serve areas outside of these eight population centers.
Convention staff desires to assist church and association leaders in rural areas with developing strategy teams that impact lostness in their local communities. We also desire to assist these strategy teams in engaging the eight population centers as a mission field.
But we must not stop there; rural churches are strategic partners in reaching North America and the nations of the world. 
Your convention staff stands ready to assist local strategy teams in engaging lostness in each of these mission fields. In so doing, the churches and associations of our state will be making great strides in fulfilling Acts 1:8.
The role of churches and associations outside of the eight population centers is strategic indeed. 
Without effective disciple-making efforts from churches in rural areas, coupled with strategic missionary efforts from these same churches to engage lost people groups in the urban areas, the ability to truly impact lostness and reach the 5.8 million lost people in our state is limited.
However, working together across North Carolina, we have the potential of not only fulfilling this strategy, but fulfilling our vision of, “becoming the strongest force in the history of this convention for reaching people with the message of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – For more information contact Brian Davis, associate executive director-treasurer; Russ Conley, team leader of the strategic focus team; and Lester Evans, team leader of the associational partnership office. You can reach them at 800- 395-5102.)
7/29/2013 2:36:39 PM by Brian Davis, Russ Conley & Lester Evans, BSC | with 1 comments

Intercede for IMB’s prayer school

July 29 2013 by Eddie Cox, Baptist Press

ROCKVILLE, Va. – International Mission Board (IMB) President Tom Elliff envisions a day when Southern Baptists will flock to the IMB’s International Learning Center to learn about the kind of fervent, effective, Great Commission-directed prayer that can change entire countries for the sake of the gospel.

When Elliff introduced his vision for the School of Prayer for All Nations to the IMB trustees in 2012, he said, “We dare not ignore this imperative any longer – the imperative of prayer.”

Elliff’s passion is for the School of Prayer to generate a “blast furnace of prayer” for reaching the nations with the transforming message of salvation through Jesus Christ.

After months of preparation, the first weeklong session of the School of Prayer will be held July 29-Aug. 2 at the International Learning Center in Rockville, Va.

Please take a few minutes today to pray for this session’s 18 participants. The following prayer starters will guide you in your intercession.
  • Lord, please protect the students in all their preparation to participate in the upcoming intensive week of intercession. Protect them in travel, providing traveling mercies going to and coming from the learning center (Psalm 121:8).
  • Heavenly Father, protect their families as a shepherd protects his flock from enemy attacks, so that nothing will prevent participants from total focus and commitment to the experiences You have planned. May there be nothing to block their participation in this important prayer experience (Isaiah 40:11).
  • Almighty God, keep their minds dependent on You and in perfect peace as they leave family, work and other concerns behind. Help them trust in Your provision for all their concerns (Isaiah 26:3). Draw their attention away from any distractions or worries.
  • Father, please bless them with Your love as they commit to take up the cross and follow You into this intensive week of prayer for the nations. In dying to self, may they find greater joy, peace and satisfaction (Luke 9:23-25).
  • Lord, give them clean hands and pure hearts, and fill them with the Spirit of God, so that all intercession will be from pure motives responding as the Spirit leads (Psalm 24:4; 51:10).
  • Give them a great confidence in the power of Your Spirit as they intercede for the nations (Hebrews 11:6).
  • Lord, keep them humble in heart and spirit so they might hear your voice and respond in obedience (James 4:10).
  • Lord, teach them to pray just as You taught Your disciples to pray for Your Kingdom to come, asking, seeking and knocking for Your will to be done. Thank God for giving them a teachable and willing spirit (Luke 11:1-12).
  • Father God, thank You that You have given them the Counselor, Your Spirit to guide in praying and revealing Your truth and Your purposes. Please bless them with Your Holy Spirit to guide and initiate prayer for Your glory and honor (John 1:7, 13).
  • Ask God to set their souls on fire to seek His way and to experience a great week of being totally dedicated to praise, confession, intercession and thanksgiving, that all nations will worship and bow down before Jesus, the Lamb of God (Romans 14:11).
A complete schedule of the week’s activities and registration information for future sessions are at http://imb.org/SPAN.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Eddie Cox is director of the International Mission Board’s Office of Global Prayer Strategy. IMB senior writer Don Graham contributed to this report.)
7/29/2013 2:32:56 PM by Eddie Cox, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Religious freedom – a secondary right?

July 26 2013 by J. Randy Forbes, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – The First Amendment is a promise that we are free to live holistically, according to the dictates of our conscience. Last month, however, the First Amendment was subjected to assaults seeking to force the fully free exercise of faith into the most private of places: our homes and houses of worship.

The intent is simple and fatal: redefine the meaning of religious freedom, making it a secondary right when exercised in the public square or marketplace.

If religious freedom becomes a secondary right, how will it affect you and your family? What challenges would you face if pressured to choose between your religious convictions and your job, business or livelihood?

Imagine you run a bakery. You love your customers, have never denied services to anyone and have employed openly gay individuals.

One day, a regular customer and her partner order a cake for their wedding ceremony. You are very fond of this customer but believe that marriage was created by God as the union of one man and one woman. Affirming the marriage by baking a cake would violate your belief. You thank your customer for her business and politely explain that you cannot provide a cake. The next week, you receive a letter saying you have been sued under your state’s anti-discrimination laws; you face litigation and fines if you continue to refuse to bake the cake. A lawsuit could cripple the business you have spent years to build. What do you do?

What if your daughter’s lifelong dream is to be a counselor? She calls crying and says she has been expelled from her program. You are confused. She is an honor student at the top of her class. She received her assignment for a required course, and the client was seeking counseling about homosexual behavior. Her religious convictions prevented her from affirming a homosexual relationship, so to best serve the client, she asked her supervisor to assign the client to another counselor. Her supervisor said she must submit to a remediation program to “see the error of her ways” and change her beliefs or withdraw from the program. What do you say to your daughter?

Maybe your family owns a successful business. You started with one store but now have hundreds of stores across several states. A family of deep faith, your religious beliefs are inseparable from the way you live your lives – including your business decisions. You close your stores on Sundays to honor a day of rest and give your employees time with their families. Though similar stores often pay minimum wage, your full-time employees receive a starting salary almost double the minimum. Full-time employees also are eligible for excellent health insurance plans.

Under the new health care law you will be forced to pay significant fines if your insurance coverage does not include contraceptive and abortive services. Such services, which violate your religious belief that all life is precious, have never been covered under your company insurance plan. You request an exemption but are told your religious beliefs are irrelevant because you are making a profit. You will be fined less money if you offer no insurance, but ceasing coverage would harm your employees. What do you do?

These scenarios are based on real cases happening across the country – a country where people originally came to escape religious persecution. They demonstrate a trend toward a dangerous redefinition of “freedom of religion” to mean simply “freedom of worship.”

The forced compartmentalization of faith fundamentally conflicts with the protection of religious freedom. Our First Amendment freedoms are deemed subordinate, when in fact our Founding Fathers revered religious freedom by giving it the highest form of protection under law. Thomas Jefferson emphasized the value of freedom of conscience when he stated that “no provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of the civil authority.”

Freedom of religion is more than freedom of worship. Freedom of religion is the freedom to live every aspect of our lives according to our faith. When individuals are faced with choosing between exercising their faith or defending a lawsuit or paying a fine, they are being deprived of a guaranteed constitutional right.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – J. Randy Forbes represents the 4th Congressional District of Virginia and is a member of Great Bridge Baptist Church in Chesapeake, Va.)
7/26/2013 11:51:33 AM by J. Randy Forbes, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Change shakes ‘House of Islam’

July 25 2013 by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press

RICHMOND, Va. – As Muslims in the Arab world observe Ramadan, the annual month of fasting that began July 9, they face violence, chaos and growing uncertainty about the future.

Have the hopes invested by so many in the Arab Spring finally died? Many think so.

“Roughly two-and-a-half years after the revolutions in the Arab world, not a single country is yet plainly on course to become a stable, peaceful democracy,” The Economist reported in a recent cover story. “The countries that were more hopeful – Tunisia, Libya and Yemen – have been struggling. A chaotic experiment with democracy in Egypt, the most populous of them, has landed an elected president behind bars. Syria is awash with the blood of civil war.

“No wonder some have come to think the Arab Spring is doomed. The Middle East, they argue, is not ready to change. One reason is that it does not have democratic institutions, so people power will decay into anarchy or provoke the reimposition of dictatorship. The other is that the region’s one cohesive force is Islam, which – it is argued – cannot accommodate democracy. The Middle East, they conclude, would be better off if the Arab Spring had never happened at all.”

But that view is “at best premature, at worst wrong,” The Economist contends. The millions of people in the region who want something better will not give up so easily. Nor should they. Political change comes slowly, but it comes. More than 20 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, for instance, the peoples once ruled by that dead empire still struggle under varying degrees of oppression. “The Arab Spring was always better described as an awakening: the real revolution is not so much in the street as in the mind,” according to The Economist.

The mind and the heart, meanwhile, are the unseen cradles of another, far more profound revolution. It has begun not just in the Middle East but throughout the Dar al-Islam – the global “House of Islam” that encompasses 1.6 billion Muslims from West Africa to Indonesia.

For the first millennium of its existence, Islam expanded relentlessly, absorbing tens of millions of Christians, “while not a single uncoerced Muslim movement to Christ [took] place,” writes International Mission Board strategist David Garrison, a top evangelical church-planting scholar. Despite heroic efforts by missionaries and other believers, even “the Great Century” of Christian global advance, the 1800s, produced only one movement to Christ among Muslims that counted at least 1,000 converts.

Garrison’s forthcoming book, A Wind in the House of Islam, excerpted in the latest issue of Mission Frontiers, explores the cracks that have appeared more recently in the façade of seemingly monolithic Islam. Its biggest internal struggle, between Sunnis and Shiites, is obvious and fuels many of the sectarian conflicts now tearing apart the Middle East. But a quieter shift is occurring behind the scenes, as Garrison confirmed in his travels to every corner of the Muslim world, where he conducted interviews with more than 1,000 former Muslims who have decided to follow Christ.

“Today, in more than 60 separate locations in at least 17 of the 49 countries where Islam holds sway, new communities of Muslim-background followers of Christ are emerging,” Garrison writes. “Each of these movements has seen at least 1,000 baptized believers and at least 100 new worshipping fellowships, all of whom have come to Christ over the past two decades. In some countries the communities have grown to number tens of thousands of new Muslim-background followers of Christ.

“Though the total number of new Christ followers, perhaps as many as 1 million to 5 million, may be a statistically small drop in the vast sea of Islam, they are not insignificant. Not limited to a remote corner of the Muslim world, these new communities of believers are widespread, from West Africa’s Sahel to the teeming islands of Indonesia – and everywhere in between. ... And these religious renegades are paying an incalculable price [in persecution and rejection] for their spiritual migration to Christ. Yet they continue to come. What began as a few scattered expressions of dissent is now emerging as substantial, and historically unprecedented, numbers of Muslim men and women wading against the current of their societies to follow Jesus Christ. And it is only beginning.”

Some of these movements to Christ have occurred in places that seem, on first glance, unlikely breeding grounds for the gospel: Iran, heart of the Shiite revival; Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world, and Algeria, site of a murderous struggle between Islamists and the military that saw more than 100,000 civilians killed in the 1990s. There’s Central Asia, ruled for generations by Soviet communism and, for centuries before that, by rigid forms of Islam, and Bangladesh, born in the blood of a war for independence from Pakistan in 1971, ravaged by poverty and natural disasters.

The common elements? Conflict and wrenching change have played a role, to be sure. Political and religious oppression have given rise to a yearning for true freedom. But social and political explanations are inadequate. Could it be that God has chosen, in His time and by His power, to answer the prayers of many centuries, to reveal Himself in Christ to Muslims yearning for a true encounter with Him? Can there be any other explanation for the countless stories, offered by Muslims themselves, of Christ appearing to them in dreams and visions?

“These 21st-century movements are not isolated to one or two corners of the world,” Garrison says. “They are taking place across the Muslim world, including sub-Saharan Africa, the Persian world, the Arab world, in Turkestan, in South Asia and in Southeast Asia.

“Something is happening, something historic, something unprecedented. A wind is blowing through the House of Islam.”

If this is true, how tragic it would be for Christians to continue responding to Muslims in fear, hatred or worse, indifference, at the very moment of the greatest turning of Muslims to Christ in history. If God asks you one day where you were when He began opening the door to nearly a quarter of humanity, what will you say?

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erich Bridges is an International Mission Board global correspondent. Visit WorldView Conversation, the blogspot related to this column. Read an excerpt from A Wind in the House of Islam at missionfrontiers.org.)
7/25/2013 2:40:01 PM by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

How to grow a Sunday School class

July 24 2013 by Diana Davis, Baptist Press

PENSACOLA, Fla. – Ask yourself this important question: Does my small group or Sunday School class consistently reach new people for Christ? Try some of these simple tips to keep your class fresh and growing:
  • Am I late? Cultivate a high-energy, welcoming atmosphere before class. Assign early coffee makers and friendly, informal greeters. Play a music CD. Encourage members and guests to arrive early for fellowship.
  • Teach members to truly greet. When guests arrive, all members must immediately, intentionally turn their focus toward meeting, befriending and including them. Eternity may be at stake!
  • The list. Prepare a members/guest list with email or phone numbers. Ask guests’ permission to add their names; then update it before next week. Place an asterisk by guests’ names, and make a goal to remove the asterisk.
  • Hi, Paul. Enhance fellowship with permanent nametags, readable from six feet away. Use disposable tags for guests, and promise a “real” one next week. Provide Sunday School literature and Bibles for guests to use, too.
  • Add paint. God’s house should look as nice as yours. Get permission, then paint, viciously de-clutter, update décor, add Christian art and make needed repairs. Joyfully repeat the process annually, or if your room assignment changes.
  • Joy photos. Create a wall display or looped slideshow with action photos of your small group in fellowship, ministry, study, laughter, worship and prayer. Add current photos at least monthly.
  • A simple “freshen-up.” Regularly make small changes to subtly heighten interest and avoid stagnation. Face chairs in a different direction. Rearrange them in semi-circles or rows. Add a teacher’s podium, table or stool.
  • An empty chair. If all chairs are occupied when a guest arrives, he feels awkward, unexpected and unwelcome. Move over, mature Christians. Expect guests. Add chairs.
  • Open God’s Word. A great Bible study class must have – surprise! –quality, life-changing Bible study. Is more time spent discussing ailments and town trivia than God’s Word? Change that. Consider printing announcements and prayer requests.
  • Respect minutes. Consistently begin precisely on time. If class precedes the worship service, it’s imperative to always dismiss with ample time to arrive before worship begins. Leaders demonstrate that priority by eagerly leading the way.
  • Find guests in worship. Every leader and member should eagerly watch for guests in the worship service and personally invite them to their Bible class.
  • Intentional follow-up. Within 72 hours after guests visit your small group, they receive a phone call, email, personal visit and snail mail welcome note from various members. Delegate these weekly assignments. One growing class invites newcomers to coffee or lunch so they can get to know them, share their own God story and invite them to join the group.
  • Fellowship or flounder. Create an atmosphere of love, and enhance relationships by planning annual events and frequent fellowships, with a focus on including newcomers. Meet often for Sunday lunch. Participate in all-church activities.
  • Stagnate or multiply. Make a class goal to multiply at least annually. That means your class will intentionally reach new people and birth a new, reproducing class. Train an intern teacher, set numeric goals and schedule the multiplication date.
Sunday School isn’t a closed group. Our purpose is to share Jesus with our world – not just to huddle! Make a plan to intentionally reach new people for Christ.

“... They welcomed the message with eagerness and examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Consequently, many of them believed,” (Acts 17:11b-12a).

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Davis is author of “Fresh Ideas” and “Deacon Wives” (B&H Publishing). She is an author, columnist and wife of North American Mission Board’s vice president for the south region, Steve Davis.)
7/24/2013 1:43:49 PM by Diana Davis, Baptist Press | with 1 comments

Movies can help

July 24 2013 by Phil Boatwright, Baptist Press

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – There’s a great deal of racial disharmony in our nation. While some see America as a land that offers justice for all, others maintain that bigotry still colors our perspective. And the movies don’t seem to be helping.

Fortunately, there are two movies among recent releases that do much to reveal America’s social progress. First, “Turbo.”

I liked this cartoon feature from frame one. It started out with the animators and 3D process drawing us into an amazing representation of a car race. The kids in the audience were awed by that scene. So was I. OK, OK, it’s a story about snails entering the Indy 500 but the symbolic significance and the creative storytelling quickly got viewers past the silly premise. It didn’t take long before we were rooting for that little-bug-who-could.

But here’s what really pleased me about Turbo. Several ethnic groups were positively represented, which I believe reflects today’s American cultural makeup. While its characters are a bit stereotypical, this animated family comedy is imaginative and uplifting, and I appreciated the fact that an effort was made on behalf of children to represent multiethnic people (and bugs) pulling together.

Meanwhile, “Pacific Rim,” that clamorous cacophony of continuing commotion about giant robots piloted by humans doing battle with Godzilla-like alien invaders, did have a subtle element I found nurturing. There’s an Asian lead, a black lead and a white lead, and never are we meant to think about their being of different races. They fight as one, respect each other, and each is willing to sacrifice for the others. There’s no hyphen associated with their character description. They’re just people working together to survive.

I’ve never understood the concept of disliking someone because of the color of his skin. My dad taught me to show respect for each individual. He had grasped a teaching in John 3:16 that those who want to distance themselves from other races ignore: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son. That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Those two words “world” and “whosoever” make it clear that God loves all who turn to Him. But laws don’t change the heart. And they won’t end prejudice. Only Jesus, our Rock of Ages, can do that.

Too many politicians, social activists and media moguls think our nation can be restructured without applying that spiritual perspective. Sadly, they’re attempting to build on sand the house we live in. Not on the Rock.

“The Lone Ranger,” another recent release, did poorly at the box office not just because it was a lethargic, bloated, excessive distortion of the Masked Man’s legacy. Besides the spin that made the iconic western hero out to be a fool, it also was a biased, prejudiced, insulting characterization of America’s pioneers. My theory is that people weren’t thrilled with that portrait of their ancestors.

The film went so far as to suggest that white pioneers were cowards. Really, Hollywood, you want to call our pioneers cowards? Whatever else can be said of them, cowardice can’t honestly be applied to those who explored and tamed a prairie that eventually would signal hope to those in other lands.

It’s good when a film celebrates what different races offer this unique nation. Our differences make us strong. But this redo of The Lone Ranger is more like a social manifest negating what our pioneer founders made possible.

This leads me to the question, isn’t it harmful when you present only the negative of any race, including the “white” one? Certainly there’s a place for exposing areas in our creed needing perfecting, but producer Jerry Bruckheimer and his Lone Ranger crew did it from a one-sided, often contentious slant. Expose the problems, OK, but the media has a responsibility also to present examples of Americans of every race doing the right thing. Otherwise we’ll never trust, never forgive and never heal.

It further frustrated me when The Lone Ranger script and those involved in bringing it to the screen were determined to spoof every Christian character in the film, portraying each one as an imbecile or a villainous hypocrite. Excuse me, but isn’t that attitude called prejudice?

Sadly, the movie industry isn’t looking at these attacks on white people as the reason for the film’s box office failing. They are content with the belief that today’s moviegoers just don’t like westerns. Really? Then why did the 2010 remake of “True Grit” do so well?

(EDITOR’S NOTE – In addition to writing for Baptist Press, Phil Boatwright reviews films for www.previewonline.org. He is also a regular contributor to “The World and Everything in It,” a weekly radio program from WORLD News Group.)
7/24/2013 1:36:23 PM by Phil Boatwright, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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